Auctioneer Paul Cooper sees business in transition

Paul Cooper is vice president of Alex Cooper Auctioneers.
Paul Cooper is vice president of Alex Cooper Auctioneers. (handout)

Longtime customers still frequent the Towson auction gallery, where they drink coffee, eat donuts and wave their paddles to bid.

It all feels…nostalgic.


“We have a very loyal following,” said Paul Cooper, vice president of Alex Cooper Auctioneers, the Towson-based auction house that began in 1924 and says sales amount to “well into the tens of millions of dollars a year,” many of them now conducted online.

The customers with the paddles “are growing in age. We lost three of them over the holidays. I still picture them sitting in the same seats,” said Cooper, part of the third-generation of the family business that began in the city and moved to Baltimore County in 1982. “Frankly, five years, 10 years down the road it’s all going to be online.”


Cooper, 60, loves history. That’s practically a prerequisite for a business that connects sellers and buyers to artifacts tied to momentous events.

In 2010, the ornate baton of a Nazi field marshal convicted of war crimes against Italian citizens during World War II brought $731,600 at auction, far more than Alex Cooper or the baton's owner expected. The 19-inch ceremonial baton, once the property of Field Marshal Albert Kesselring of the Luftwaffe, had been listed with an estimated value of between $10,000 and $15,000 before the auction.

Auction house items include paintings and lithographs, jewelry, coins, stained glass, sports memorabilia and historic items.

Alex Cooper has auctioned papers of Thomas Jefferson and a letter from George Washington. Recent lots featured a local collection of local suffrage movement banners.

The company, which also has a rug gallery, also auctions real estate, both voluntary and foreclosure sales. In 2009, it handled the 2009 sale of the landmark Senator Theatre to Baltimore City for $810,000.

In the last six weeks of 2017, it sold more than 200 investment properties using its online bidding platform combined with gallery sales. According to Paul Cooper, many of the properties were single-family homes valued around $15,000 to $20,000 that were part of the Chapter 11 bankruptcy of City Homes, a nonprofit affordable housing company.

“In the old days people would say we’re auctioneers,” Cooper said. “I feel like I’m wearing three hats. We’re a marketing company, a technology company and an auction company.”

The company’s 50 employees include three professional photographers. Sellers “want high-resolution pictures and they want detailed descriptions,” Cooper said.

The offices, at 908 York Road, were recently renovated. “It was built in the fifties. We took it down to the shell and rebuilt,” Cooper said.

Some auctions are online only. Others are blended sales for live and online buyers.

“You can leave a ranged bid and say ‘I’m starting at $100 and willing to go up to $500,” Cooper said.

“It’s not unusual to ship items to Europe, Asia, South America. I guess the whole point is we’re using technology to reach a national and international audience.”

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